As a startup founder, you may think that you need to have a lot of capital available in order to build and implement an effective marketing strategy for your new venture. However, while having money is certainly helpful, it is entirely possible to craft a marketing strategy that requires minimal spending and yields worthwhile results. The key is to have the right goals in mind and know which tools can be the most effective in helping you achieve those goals.
Set some goals for your marketing efforts
Many startup founders may be under the assumption that they need to “do marketing,” but don’t have a clear idea of what that even means or why they are actually doing it. This approach to marketing is not only ineffective, but also leads to wasted time, energy and resources. With that said, knowing how to get started can be challenging, particularly if you are not a marketing expert.
So what is marketing, exactly? For a startup founder, marketing is about understanding your target audience and figuring out how to promote your product or service to that audience in order to turn them into customers. In other words, understanding who would actually want your product and then figuring out how to get them to pay for it.
Putting some goals in place for what you are trying to achieve through your marketing efforts and understanding where you are in terms of product development can help ensure that you’re not just doing marketing for the sake of it. Whether you are trying to gauge the size of the market, test your proof of concept, drive people to your product, or scale your business, you need to know exactly why you’re marketing.
Having a marketing strategy in place can also be important for fundraising. If your plan is to build your product and hope that people come to it on their own, that probably won’t impress investors. But if you have a marketing strategy, you can demonstrate to investors that you are serious about your startup and you have put strategic thought into how you’re going to acquire customers and make your product a success.
Utilize the right marketing tools
With so many marketing resources available, trying to decide which tools or methods to use can be overwhelming, especially for a startup founder. That’s why it’s important to know which are most effective and don’t require a great deal of spending. Here are three tools you can use to build out your marketing strategy without having to shell out a lot of money.
Using email is an excellent way to drive customers to your product, and will do a lot of your job for you once you’ve created the right framework. Email is one of the most effective marketing tools available, and it’s easy to see right away if you are generating results. There are a number of very affordable email tools out there, some of which are specifically designed for startups that don’t yet require managing contacts in the millions, like Mailchimp, Zoho Mail, or Constant Contact.
Email is only worthwhile if you put in the effort to generate good contact lists. When your startup is in its early stages, you may be concerned as to how you are going to build your lists and make sure you’re hitting your target audience. One approach is to start with your direct connections who you think might be interested in your product, and grow your contacts from there through incentives like referrals. Another way to generate leads is to integrate an email sign up on your site for people to learn more about your product and get a demo.
Once you’ve grown your contact lists, you can start segmenting these lists into different categories and creating automated email workflows to turn leads into actual customers. You should build a strategy around your email content to ensure that it is strong, consistent, and compliant with email laws and best practices. Think about subject lines, length of your emails, tone, and visual style, and what images and links you want to use. Email is a powerful tool because it allows you to reach people on a more personal level, so be very conscious about what you’re sending to your contacts, especially early on.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is a good example of how doing the work from the beginning can lead to long-term results. There are a number of SEO best practices for your startup’s website that you can put into place early on and don’t require expert knowledge. “Good” SEO primarily comes down to a few key things: content quality, how long users engage with your content, user experience, and how easy it is to access your content.
First, you should determine what people are searching for in relation to your product. If your product is in a heavily saturated market, such as children’s gaming applications, it may be difficult to capture generic keywords because established companies will have already taken up a lot of the Google real estate. Instead, focus on longer, more specific keywords, such as “math game app for kids” which will give you a better opportunity to get your content to rank on Google. There are a number of free, downloadable web browser plugins, such as Keywords Everywhere, that will show you how many people are searching for a keyword and how much competition there is in terms of search results.
Once you’ve identified your keywords, you’ll be able to create new content around them as well as optimize the content you already have. With that being said, you can’t just fill your website with keywords and expect to generate results. You also need to produce quality content that is informative, interesting to read, and includes other forms of media such as images, illustrations, or videos. If you are not a marketer yourself, it may be worthwhile to consult with a marketing expert or hire a contractor and offer them equity in exchange for their services.
Additionally, you should look for ways to connect content within your site rather than only directing visitors to external content. This means including internal links to other pages on your website that are relevant and potentially helpful for the visitor who may be looking to learn more. Internal links can help you reduce the rate of people coming to your site and leaving right away, which signals to Google that the content is good and people are actually engaging with it.
Product launches are an effective way to create awareness around your product and obtain customers. Product launches are especially critical for startups because startups don’t already have a big brand reputation to lean on like many established companies do. When it comes to launching, don’t worry about your product being perfect, because the whole idea is that the sooner you launch, the sooner you can gauge response to your product and determine if you’re actually on the right track. If you are an early-stage startup, don’t try to overextend yourself or jump ahead to a big launch like a Kickstarter campaign if you’re not ready. Instead, start small and build traction over time.
To prepare for a launch, you’ll need to create a launch plan. This plan should include the development and testing of your MVP after you’ve successfully validated your idea. It should also include the creation of a pre-launch email list filled with contacts that have already expressed interest in buying your product, either through your website, a landing page, or somewhere else.
An effective way to launch your product is through a site like Product Hunt, which, if done correctly, can help your product reach a large audience and quickly generate a high volume of traffic. This method of launching does take time and effort, but it costs virtually nothing and is great for kicking off the launch process.
While the tools discussed above are just a few of many, they can certainly help you get started building a marketing strategy, and are great for startup founders looking to save money and still generate results. Ultimately, if you want your marketing efforts to be truly successful, make sure you focus on the “why” before you focus on the “how.”
This article is intended for informational purposes only, and doesn't constitute tax, accounting, or legal advice. Everyone's situation is different! For advice in light of your unique circumstances, consult a tax advisor, accountant, or lawyer.